Europe


The new map is more reminiscent of early modernity, of the trade and pilgrimage routes, of the links between holy cities and routes of world communication. Periphery and centre, far and near – everything is being re-positioned. Even the most recent scenes of coming clashes are marked on this map of the new Europe: the London underground stations, the Moscow metro, the suburban railway station of Madrid-Antoch, where the bombs exploded. Marked on these most recent maps are the places where Europe is at its most vulnerable – in the public spaces of its great cities.

I wish I had expressed this as effectively as Karl Schlögel has here.  However, the fuzzy world which he sees coming into view–the one formed in spite of the memories of Cold War conflict between Europeans–has a much deeper history.  The Wall divided Europe, but the since of East and West has been ingrained in memory for much longer, at least since the Enlightenment.

Where the West ended and the East began was never clear, and many would argue that they were truly in the West, those over the next hill were in the East.  But East and West were two parts of the Christian world at different stages of development. Progress and openness on one side of the continent appeared opposite despotism and feudalism on the other.  The western states were in control of their own nations, subsequently dominating the world.  The eastern states-if they could be called states–were at the mercy of competing nationalisms.

Moreover, the eastern states were at the periphery, muddle in affairs of Asian countries and peoples.  Their orientation forced them to adapt to their social and cultural institutions to the proximity of the non-European world.  The orientalism of the West allowed them to overcome geography and dominate the non-European world.  The vestiges of this perspective appear whenever affairs of Georgia or Turkey are discussed.  It’s not the division between East and West made manifest by Soviet domination.  But it is a division made by the West, with a longer life.

 

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Poor Mika Brzezinski. Once again, she let Joe Scarborough cut her off in the process of refuting a half-baked argument. I wish she had at least a louder voice to compete with his bullish behavior.

This morning, it occurred in a debate (with Joe Walsh) over the image of America in the world. According to the men, the election of pro-American leaders proves that being associated with American values still holds currency with European voters.

(more…)

Is this the first bit of Euro-patriotism?

So the euro, our currency, has become a problem for US policy makers. Gorging on debt as a wealth creation, they have been freeriding on the dollar’s previously unassailable role for a very long time. But now, there is an alternative, and there finally are Europeans willing to say that the emperor is naked. This is a momentous event.

Like a fool, I’ve tried to piece together a plausible narrative that describes what motivates the group dynamics at the fore of Gosford Park.  The best I can say is that Lord Stockbridge wanted to remove his capital from investments in the British Empire and move them into more lucrative and modern industries, namely entertainment (because of his peculiar interest in the filmmakers’ business seemed to excite the jealousies of his family, many of whom made their living through imperialism).  His murder insured that empire would go on blissfully without reflecting on its weaknesses, although we all know it would eventually fail.

This all came to mind as I watched Pat Buchanan on Morning Joe insist that Britain unnecessarily risked its empire fighting Germany in WWII.  It seems that the mechanism that informs Buchanan’s historical analysis is that Britain’s decision to become involved in the war had the effect of expanding the war beyond what Hitler had intended.  Indeed, the choices that British governments made created an ever-escalating conflict.  To Buchanan, had the British not become involved, there would have been no loss of empire, a limited Holocaust, and no war in Western Europe.  And because of the war that led to the loss of empire, the West lost its ability to contain extremism globally.

Resisting the urge to debate him on the points (how could German honor be satisfied without defeating the French republic?), I find what may seem to be a worldview antithetical to the one Bush expressed in the Knesset, equally as dangerous.  Both speak against diplomatic engagement.  Both are premised on the question of whether force can be used to maintain order.  Both asks us to wait around until problems can only be resolved by armed intervention (I’ll give Buchanan at least the benefit of having a higher threshold than Buchanan).  Both point to the weaknesses of the conservative opinion of diplomacy: unnecessary as a prelude to force.

Was there a trade-off to all that good internationalism that followed World War II?  Well, as one set of nationalist myths was slowly peeled away, and sovereignty as the exclusive property of the nation dissolved into international organizations like the Council of Europe, NATO, the European Community, Warsaw Pact, and ComEcon (not all voluntary, of course), other myths became reality: the nation as an expression of ethnicity.  In some cases, nations benefitted from the Nazi’s removal and extermination of minorities–those who were considered problems of integration .

However, the post-war settlement also led to new boundaries and expulsion of other minority populations who asserted their own national claim on the same territory.  Germans were forced from Eastern European states, especially Czechoslovakia and Poland; these nations could regard themselves as more ethnically pure.  Even Germany could benefit: almost all its minority population exterminated, the sense of Germany being a nation of Germans was realized.  The “guest workers” who came from Spain, then Portugal, and then Turkey could be isolated from the main population, nationality remaining elusive, and the perception of ethnic purity preserved.  Obviously, Germany deals today with the integration of Turks, in particular, despite their efforts to prevent it from happening.

Poland provides a compelling case of how one such purified state deals with ‘Europeanization.’  Poland’s woes are storied: the partition by Austria, Prussia and Russia; failure of the democratic movement in the 1830s; the antagonism of German minorities after World War I; another partition, by Germany and the Soviet Union; and the domination of the Soviet Union in the post-war era.

Recently attention has been given to the treatment of Jews in Poland.  Once a refuge for Ashkenazi, what was once “the paradise of the Jews” has come under scrutiny for its antisemitism.  Historian Jan Gross, in particular, has pursued Polish antisemitism in a series of publications, most recently Neighbors and Fear.  Neighbors, a micro-history of a pogrom, studied exterminationist violence against Jews outside the context of Nazi direction–wholly pursued by Poles, independently and spontaneously.  Fear, though, raises more disturbing possibilities: the perpetuation of antisemitism in the postwar era as a dominant feature of Polish politics, both communist and nationalist.

Poland’s central collective narrative is of a morally clean nation that has witnessed horror but not been its collaborator.  If there is a single thread to this narrative it is the notion that Poland is untainted by the Holocaust.  The standard denials of culpability in pogroms and purges of Jews during or after the war, however, have been slowly unwinding since the 2001 publication of a book called Neighbors [sic] by Jan Gross, a US historian of Polish-Jewish origin.  [New Statesman, Feb 18, 2008]

 [Poles] being a direct witness to Nazi atrocities — Jews from all over Europe were herded to concentration camps in Poland — unleashed a brutal anti-semitism in the country that had for almost nine centuries been home to one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities.

His conclusions are harsh: “A very brutal anti-semitism was widespread in Poland,” he told his audience. “Many Poles agreed with the opinion that Hitler should have a monument elevated for helping Poland solve the Jewish question. That was happening not in only Poland, but in all of post-war Europe.” [Economist, Jan 31, 2008]

 According to Gross, Polish anti-semitism stems from the fear of the Polish people of giving back properties to the Holocaust survivors, as well as the feeling of guilt for their actions during the War. Gross also points the finger at the reproaches of the Polish church. He challenges the theory that the origins of post-war anti-semitism is the unproportionally high number of Jews in high positions in the communist regime. [Café Babel, Jan 28, 2008]

Gross’ assertion, that Polish political culture nurtures antisemitism, is at odds with Poles’ self-image of a nation that has suffered under both German occupation and communism.  Victimhood and resistance are not cleansing in themselves.  It does not erase the fact that Poles could, at times, act as agents of German policies or independently pursue their own exterminations.

Antisemtism after World War Two was not necessarily a racist discourse to oppress a people.  It was a blunt weapon used by political rivals.  Antisemtism played a central role in the suppression of competition between factions of Poland’s communism.  Elements within the government who were more closely associated with Soviet (Judaicized) communism were targets of an efforts to purify native communism.

The 1960s saw a new force appear, the Partisans, a loose group of party leaders united by a similar political background, combining nationalism and communism, under the leadership of General Mieczyslaw Moczar, head of the interior ministry.  Moczar accused Gomulka of supporting these “Muscovites”. Gomulka succumbed, denouncing the student activists as “Zionist” agents. By the end of 1968, two-thirds of Poland’s Jews had been driven into emigration.

The regime trundled on into another round of brutality and infighting and two years later, in 1970, insurrection broke out in the Baltic ports: Elblag, Gdansk, Gdynia and Szczecin and was suppressed at the cost of many lives. Enter Jaruzelski.  The 1968 campaign was largely based on the myth of Judeo-communism (Zydo-komuna) and developed a popular stereotype of Jewish communism to purify communism: the Jews as the dark side of communism. Whatever is wrong in communism is due to them. Jews spread disease.  But those bad old days are gone, aren’t they? [New Statesman]

Of course, real Jews–what few remained after the Holocaust–experienced violence and repression, as Karl Sauerland’s memoirs attest, or that is in evidence at recent events.

“The Jews are attacking us! We need to defend ourselves,” shouted Prof. Bogoslav Wolniewicz, to stormy applause.  About 1,000 people gathered for special services Sunday at the church, organized by the Committee Against Defamation of the Church and For Polishness, along with the anti-Semitic Radio Maryja. Local residents were informed of the service by posters that proclaimed: “The kikes will not continue to spit on us.” [Ha’aretz, Feb 12, 2008]

The key is antisemitism as a tool of political discourse, used to test the purity of one’s ideology.  However, this does not seem like genuine antisemitism–not big “A” antisemitism that emerged with the racial sciences of the nineteenth century.  This antisemitism is focused less on Jews than Poles own xenophobia, turning the Jew into the template of the foreigner.  It is a symptom of a society that blames its problems on foreign influence, even after communism’s retreat.  And it can survive without Jews, generalizing who the foreigner is in pursuit of a pure nation.

The PiS government (2004-2007) sold itself quite successfully as a party of “real Poles”, believers and families. It was a call to the faithful. Its spoke the language of “us and them,” of hidden interests and threats within the institutions of state. [New Statesman]

Further evidence that Europe’s secularism is something other than what we think it is: Christoph Prantner, in Der Standard, argues that Catholicism is reasserting itself in national politics, largely in response to the growth of Islam. In many cases, though, these trends question the secularization of the state and its meaning. Sarkozy, of course, has actively insisted on identifying France more closely with the Catholic/Christian heritage. In recent weeks, he has interpreted the 1905 laws of laicité not as a strict separation of state and religion, but the confessional neutrality of the state. Indeed, I feel emboldened to repeat what I have already written: that secularization has historically been the wresting of the state from the Church, but that Christianity has been a continual, though sometimes subliminal, theme in political culture.

From Zaki Laïdi’s Les formes inattendues de la puissance européenne (translation mine):

 First, Europe, often seen by Europeans as a weak actor without means, is in reality perceived as an influential actor on the world scene, less for its force of arms than its norms.  Second, Europe, often presented to the member states as a space deregulated in all activities so that market forces rule, is often seen by the rest of the world as a hyper-regulatory actor that seeks to generalize norms.  Finally, … when speaking of the political power of Europe, one must not only reference its military powerlessness but also the types of influence that flow from its existnece as a unique market.  We must change our perspective and ask if in the end Europe is above all a normative empire.

Joel from Far Outliers, who is traveling through Europe to visit his academic relatives flung throughout the continent, was kind enough to leave this observation about crossing the Rhine from France into Germany:

I just tried booking train reservations to Bucharest in the SNCF office in the center of Grand Ile. They couldn’t confirm anything past Wien. International airlines do much better in that regard.

And when we crossed the “border” to Kehl, the DB travel counter agent would only use German or English, forcing the French speaker ahead of me in line to struggle along in German no better than mine. EUnification seems to have a long way to go on the ground.

Yep. I’ve had those experiences. Once I was one of two links between a SNCF agent and a pair of Moldavians (he spoke French and some English, I translated into German for a Russian woman, who translated into Russian for the Moldavians). The French still don’t speak German (or English, for that matter), though SNCF agents should. Germans don’t speak French (though DB agents should), but ply you with their English at the drop of a hat. (To be fair, I’ve also translated for Swiss border agents from French and German into English so they could speak to a Japanese woman.)

What I think is more ironic is that it is still really hard to cross the Rhine by rail, whether internationally at Strasbourg or within Germany at Cologne. Since the construction of the railways in the mid-19th century, the rails on the left side ran one way (generally toward Belgium), the rails on the right another (generally northeast). From the records I’ve read from the Rhenish Railroad, businessmen stalled as much as possible when it came to linking their cities to thos in Central an Eastern Europe. The East held no economic interest for them. Year after year, rail officials hesitated to invest in right bank projects, claiming that the terrain was poor or incentives were low, and connected more of the left bank together instead. The Alsatian Railroad was almost no better.

Nothing that has happened since has improved the rail infrastructure connecting both sides of the river. Crossing is a slow process. The technology can often be less sophisticated. As the right side is underdeveloped, traveling east-west leads to convoluted courses. Why did it take so long to go from Strasbourg to Mannheim or Stuttgart, when Basel was a short trip? EUnification hasn’t built many real bridges.

Well, I hope Joel filled up on Flammkuchen when in my beloved Strasbourg.

In the past, I’ve said that if I could draw the map of contemporary Europe, I would not show sharp lines dividing nation states, but dotted lines that reveal commerce over borders and shaded areas where cultural and economic exchange has intensified. So much attention is given to the diplomatic aspects of European politics–most recently, negotiations between executives in the Lisbon process–that it seems national differences are still insurmountable. Yet change occurs; just a scratch on the surface reveals “Europe” transforming nations and cultures in unpredictable ways.

That’s why I welcome essays like Gerard Delanty’s “Peripheries and borders in post-western Europe.” It’s a thoughtful piece that tackles how integration of eastern (or east central) Europe into the union has changed the nature of boundaries, minorities, and peripheries.

…Rather than look for a European level of identity over and beyond national identities or see the latter as resisting a top-down supranational European identity, attention should be focused on the mixed or hybrid nature of national identities, which have been transformed in numerous ways by Europeanization. For this reason, the logic of Europeanization has tended towards the Europeanization of national identities rather than the demise of national identity. This is evident in many spheres: in communication, lifestyles, and the many areas in which the EU has gained legal competences, such as education and citizenship. … there is now a changed relation between the periphery and the core, with the periphery emerging from marginalization to become a site of cosmopolitan re-bordering. However, the true significance of the relation of core to periphery is more inter-civilizational than can be seen in terms of interstate relations and defined in terms of state-EU dynamics.

Delanty argues that the old concept of a “Rhine-based” Europe, a civilization defined by Latin Christianity and early industrialization, and so central to the early movements for Europeanization, have been displaced in favor of a “three Europe” model, where different, interrelated civilizations link together. Consequently, Europe is turning from its Atlanticism to the eastern hemisphere. Moreover, the single Europe model, with free flow of labor and goods, has contributed to a reevaluation of what makes for national differences while situating them in a continental network.

Most interesting, and perhaps a little disturbing, is that key notions about minority and diversity are being challenged by the inclusion of eastern European states.

A new understanding of diversity is emerging in which the concern with diversity is excluding recognition of minorities. Kevin Robbins[23] has argued that there has generally been a discursive shift in Europe whereby the language of “minorities” has been replaced by a new emphasis on diversity.[24] To an extent, as he notes, this is positive in that the equation of “otherness” with minorities is reduced and a more generalizable notion of diversity relevant to the vast range of social and cultural differences can be more readily applied. As Robbins points out, the notion of diversity normalizes difference and facilitates a broadening of the horizons beyond ethnic categorization, working towards the “de-ethnicization of difference” and invoking a more positive understanding of difference. However, the centrality of “diversity” today is not unproblematic since it is predominantly being interpreted in much of central and eastern Europe as a way to relate to national autochthonous minorities. What had begun as an attempt to replace the language of minority/majority culture in order to take account of a wider range of diversities is in danger of being reduced to ethnic categories. In the discursive shift, what is lost is recognition of forms of diversity that are not related to national minorities.

Taking nations as the measure of diversity really undermines a great deal of the cultural federalism that has developed in Europe. Originally cultural hegemony by the majority was taken as a huge problem in the post-war, post-nationalist Europe. The celebration of diversity–ethnic, religious, regional, cultural–was taken as a firewall to the types of politics that led to fascism. Perhaps that was an ideal outlook. The notion that every ethnicity should aspire to its own nation was fraught with peril. The notion that the state owed its obligations to the national majority created discriminatory politics. I’ve expressed great misgivings about the direction that Poland followed under the Kaczynski brothers. Potentially the ideology of the nation-state could develop in the exact opposite of what is happening on the ground: emphasizing difference even though Europeans in different countries interact rather peacefully with each other.

On a similar topic, the European  Institute of Cultural Routes offers a report by two French grad students on memory and the Schengen borders.  Good reading, if you know French.

What’s so secular about Europe?

A subtext of Mitt Romney’s speech about religion and American politics could have been, “we aren’t like those Europeans.” Another denigration of “Old Europe” gone awry, no longer relevant in the contemporary world. Roger Cohen, at least, took issue with Romney’s comparison of American religiosity and European secularism:

“Religiosity now seems at least as important for public office as leadership qualities,” said Karl Kaiser, a German political scientist. “The entrance condition for the American presidential race is being religious. If you’re not, you have no chance, which troubles Europeans.”

Of course, the us heritage of which Romney spoke is real. The Puritans’ vision of America as “a city upon a hill” was based on a covenant with God. As the Bill of Rights was formulated, George Washington alluded in his Thanksgiving Proclamation to “that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”

Religion informed America’s birth. But its distancing from politics was decisive to the republic’s success. Indeed, the devastating European experience of religious war influenced the founders’ thinking. That is why I find Romney’s speech and the society it reflects far more troubling than Europe’s vacant cathedrals.

Romney allows no place in the United States for atheists. He opines that, “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.” Yet secular Sweden is free while religious Iran is not. Buddhism, among other great Oriental religions, is forgotten.

He shows a Wikipedia-level appreciation of other religions, admiring “the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims” and “the ancient traditions of the Jews.” These vapid nostrums suggest his innermost conviction of America’s true faith. A devout Christian vision emerges of a U.S. society that is in fact increasingly diverse.

Romney rejects the “religion of secularism,” of which Europe tends to be proud. But he should consider that Washington is well worth a Mass. The fires of the Reformation that reduced St. Andrews Cathedral to ruin are fires of faith that endure in different, but no less explosive, forms. Jefferson’s “wall of separation” must be restored if those who would destroy the West’s Enlightenment values are to be defeated.

Unfortunately, both Romney and Cohen missed the meaning of European secularism. Romney sees only the battle in the square–does religion belong in politics, must the state work to produce a religion-free public sphere, what role should education ascribe to religion in discussing the roots of American civilization, etc.? These terms are narrow, partisan, and ultimately relevant only to American politics. Cohen validates this misconception.

France, Germany and other nations had similarly contentious debates during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Needless to say, the effort to produce state-supported ethics separate from Christian morality, as Hegel desired was not entirely successful. Indeed, the debate itself undermined the process. The secularization that occurred, though, was not the wresting of politics, society and culture from Christianity, but the wresting of the state from the churches. As much as the clergy lost their voice in the life of the state, religiously-minded individuals positioned themselves in politics. Geez, the Queen is still the head of the Anglican Church, and poor Tony Blair can’t seem to convert.

Clearly, European politics cannot be called secular. Almost every state has a strong Christian Democratic party that, generally, represents the center-right within the spectrum. The successes of Merkel and Sarkozy in recent elections suggests that the desire to conduct politics within the spirit of religion is far from discredited. However, neither of them is as religious as the social conservatives in the Republican party (and perhaps some of the Democrats running for president). In several state, citizens are compelled to support religious institutions of their choice through taxation. Of course, the Poles continue to credit their resistance to Communism and Soviet domination to the Catholic Church.

Europe’s secularism must be seen in the context of post-war history. Rather than enforcing a harsh division between Church and State, a soft landing was achieved. Christianity became less important in the construction of national identity. Christian values related to social welfare gained acceptance. Politicians built parties that were independent of theological politics, allowing them to become mass parties rather than just representatives of interest groups and minorities. Romney might be unhappy to learn that ‘socialism’ in Germany and Austria was the product of Catholics interested in social reform.

The bigger question, though, is whether Europe can be distanced from Christianity. The Papacy’s campaign to canonize Robert Schuman (which failed without evidence of a miracle) reveals a polemic that is difficult to dismiss. Specifically, John Paul II wanted to connect the Church as an institution to the process of European integration, which was something of a reach. However, pious individuals have been strong voices in the advancing of integration since the European Coal and Steel Community. The character of Schuman has been one of the Church’s strongest cards.

Immigration has become the major test of Europe’s secularism. The increasing presence of Muslim in the public sphere has challenged citizens and governments to define the meaning of secularism. “Super mosques”, honor killings, plural marriage, headscarves, language, etc., test the extent to which religious expression is tolerated. Some are easy to proscribe. Others, like headscarves, can be claimed as important symbols of expression and identity central to Islam, even though the wider public regards them as symbols of liberty undermined. Tensions over Islam show one thing: Europe’s secularism is built on an assumed, internalized Christianity.

Europe’s secularism is what it is … another institution that can only be known in itself. It internalizes religion, rejecting the institutions of faith but institutionalizing its spirit. Freedom may not require religion, but in Europe, they are allies.

Pierre Mertens writes in Le Monde (December 12, 2007):

Belgium no longer loves itself. It never truly did love itself. A certain masochism always eats away at its insides. This tendency for self-derision that, at times, reflects its humor and its arrogance, also nourishes its suicidal tendencies. . . . Its métissage, its own bastardization, made it a metaphor, a metonym, for all Europe: one part for all. A laboratory all can visit to pierce the secret of the paradoxical, improbable model that we offer.

For all the ink spilled over the constitutional crisis in Belgium (over the election of an anti-federal, pro-Flanders majority), there is little concern, certainly not on par with the election of Hamas. Perhaps some people think it is natural for ethnic groups to go their own ways. Nations are artful creatures, and the confederation that may emerge if the CD&V coalition eventually receives the leadership of government will be as natural as Belgium had been–or the two separate nations that may yet come. Even from the perspective of European institutions, the disintegration of a nation is less important than the ties that are cultivated between regions and communities across national borders–transnational rather than international.

The fate of Brussels may prove more interesting. Federal city, capital city, capital Europe, it is much more than a center of government, but the symbol of an ideal of post-national politics. Without Belgium, what would become of the city and its ideal? Pascal Delwit finds the prospects bleak:

If Belgium implodes, it would be logical, from the logic of a European nation-state, that Belgium would be bequeathed to Walloons and Brussels. It is difficult to speculate [further]. The key problem for Brussels would be to maintain its status as a national and international capital. To be clear, if Brussels is no longer a capital of Europe, it will become a small provincial town. It will lose its European institutions and all the enterprises associated therewith.

A contraction of function as a national would certainly make it less appealing for European politicians. It’s been suggested that the current crisis would make Belgium’s signature on the new EU treaty meaningless. What would happen to the EU? Brussels is not the only capital. My beloved Strasbourg stands ready already housing many parliamentary functions as well as the court and Council of Europe. And there are a few who would prefer relocating all functions to Strasbourg (mostly those who hate how the city of Brussels is run). For that matter, Bonn might have lots of usable space.

The breakup of Belgium would give fuel to the fire of Eurosceptcism. The symbolic capital of an ethnically-diverse federationwould be lost. Other capital cities would inspire national jealousies. Diplomacy between national executives would be emphasized over democracy, and the EU needs much more of the latter. The nations of Eastern Europe would feel less attracted to the “spiritual” dimensions of European integration. As much as Brussels could be hated for burdensome bureaucracy and complex language, the city has a niche that others might not fill.

[Crossposted to Cliopatria]

I laughed several weeks ago when Joel at Far Outliers wrote about his experiences studying in communist Romania (“Romania, 1984: Toilet Paper Tales“). Scholarship never seemed more like roughing it (certainly from my perspective). Slavenka Drakulic offers similar thoughts on economics and bathrooms as they reflect the current prosperity in east-central Europe (“Bathroom Tales“).

… Nowadays, what I’m especially glad to have – and Stasiuk doesn’t mention this product at all – is my stack of fine toilet paper. Rolls and rolls of it, I still hamster them as if they are going to disappear from the supermarket shelf at any moment, as they use to do. Old habits die hard! It’s soft, very soft, and comes in various pastel colours such as light blue, pink, and orange; some come with a floral pattern, one has small people skiing (for use in winter, I suppose), and another has funny animals to encourage children to use it. In the supermarket across the street, I recently bought the latest hit, a lightly perfumed toilet paper from Italy. But I decided that it was too much, even for a collector. Besides, its scent clashes with the toilet-cleaning tablet, the air-freshener, the scent of the softener…

Does anybody in eastern Europe today remember that toilet paper was a luxury not so long ago? I guess my generation is the last to do so, and when we are gone it will be entirely forgotten. People born after 1985 will say in bewilderment: There was no toilet paper? But that’s impossible! How could you live without it? Indeed, how could we?

… t’s not only our Communist past that still imprisons us in the collective pronoun, but also our dream to get out of that prison. We nurtured a collective dream of escaping from everyday life. We dreamt about a different normality. But what kind?

The short answer would be that we expected nothing less than paradise. Why paradise? And how could anybody’s normality turn into paradise? Simply because, compared with what we had – or rather, didn’t have – what the others (meaning western Europeans) had was in such abundance that it seemed to us exactly like paradise. [Emphasis mine]
Was normality (I mean paradise, Europe) as we imagined and desired it, simply a mistake? Yes and no. We are learning the hard way that such normality – that is, a comfortable life – doesn’t come automatically, and above all, doesn’t come cheap.

Now we are experiencing that normality has another dimension, a tedious, small-scale struggle that each of us faces. Far from pink toilets, the colour of normality is grey. This is bad news. And there is no end to the struggle, be it for Zoe’s bathroom, for justice, for more freedom – or against corruption, manipulation, or fear. The good news, however, is there is a new chance of winning the struggle. It’s time to understand that it’s up to each of us individually to take it up. We can’t blame anybody any longer, for the simple reason that each person can make a change. Or, at least, can try to.

Comfort, abundance, luxuries? Is that the best that “Europe” can offer after fifty-six years? At least Drakulic can admit that the appeal of the West lay not in its ideas, but its things.

History Librarian points to the current Eurozine: European Memory: Towards a Grand Narrative, with offerings by several heavy weights. In particular, Jan-Werner Müller’s Europäischen Erinnergungspolitik Revisited discusses the prospects of European memory, the methodological, theoretical and political problems of its construction. I’ve hastily translated a snippet (errors are my own):

This is not to say that there are suddenly all kinds of common memories to be shared across Europe: Europe’s many memories are split and will remain this way for a long time–perhaps forever. At best we have to work with a European “historical aura”. Enough commonalities and starting points are available in current cultural memories in order to bring about an exploration of commonalities and differences. This process can in turn lead to a destabilization and “decentralization” of the memorial cultures of nations–without which important historical (and moral) differences would be blurred. Preoccupation with histoires croisées or entangled histories allows at least the possibility of an “overlapping consensus” … in many central questions of historical sentiment–thus a consensus … which does not automatically put the entirety of national sentiment in doubt.

The last sentence shows the real possibility for a future European memory: using cross-border histories to deflate the tensions that surround national histories and comparative histories. It mirrors “Europe” in its structure, existing most strongly farthest from the centers of power, at the territorial and social peripheries.

From an interview in L’Express:

Geremek: [Europe’s] frontiers are fixed by history more than geography. They are cultural: Europe is, foremost, a system of values. An empire, yes, but founded on liberty in the service of peace. All empires seek to extend themselves. It is in the interest of Europe to extend itself by force of examples.

Ses frontières sont fixées par l’histoire plus que par la géographie. Elles sont culturelles : l’Europe, c’est d’abord un ensemble de valeurs. Un empire, oui, mais fondé sur la liberté au service de la paix. Tout empire cherche à s’étendre. L’intérêt de l’Europe, ce serait qu’elle s’étende par la force de son exemple.

Bébé has kept me up at night and busy during the day, thus little extra time for blogging. That, and I have become hopelessly addicted to Dead like Me. We did, however, have a great day at the Eastern States Exhibition (aka, the Big E). Unfortunately, I have a backlog of things I would like to post. So I’ll mention a few things briefly

The writing goes well, but I feel to cooped up in Germany right now. Too much Frankreich, not enough of la France. I’m compensating by making my non-diss related reading relevant to France. Currently, I’m enjoying (to my surprise) Huysmans Against Nature. After that I’ll consume some brief works by Virilio, Badiou, Marcel, Maritain, Rancière and Rosanvallon. But I didn’t find what I really wanted: French thought, preferably political or social, from the post-Bergson, pre-Sartre era. Any suggesttions? (Yes, this is a bleg.)

[ETA:] I notice from the stats that the resources are getting some attention. It’s still a work in progress, but if anyone has anything that belongs there, please let me know.

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